As a church, now is the time of year when we start looking forward to Easter and Easter baptisms! This is a time to celebrate who Jesus is and what he’s done in the lives of the people being baptized. It’s a beautiful, experiential, public display of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the life change that comes to everyone who believes.
With another round of baptisms coming up we should encourage new believers and any believers who haven’t yet been baptized to attend the Baptism Class to better understand what it’s all about. But - if the believer in your life happens to be one of your children things might seem a little more complicated.
Parents often wonder how to approach the subject of baptism with their children. We might know it’s an important step of obedience for every Christian, but we don’t want it to be something our children do for the wrong reasons. And given the fact that they are children (that is to say, still immature in many ways) we wonder whether they can actually even make the decision to get baptized in a genuine way.
These were all things that Dawn and I thought and talked about a lot last spring as two of our boys started asking about baptism.They were 9 & 11 at the time and while we were uncertain about it at first, 4 months later, on September 13, 2015, I baptized both of them in False Creek. As I think back over that process there are a few important questions that I think every parent should consider in regards to their child and the possibility of baptism.
1. Is my child taking any initiative towards baptism?
This was what got the ball rolling in our family. Our boys had seen a bunch of baptisms already (because we went to them as a family), they heard the call for all unbaptized Christians to come to a class (because they were in the gathering with us each week) and they responded as any mature believer should - by wanting to get baptized.
If a child is an active part of the church, the call to baptism will be a recurring opportunity in their life and they should respond to it on their own. I’m not saying you shouldn’t bring it up in conversation with your child, but if they are a believer then it should be something they feel compelled to do, and take steps towards because of their own core beliefs.
2. Is your child a Christian?
This may seem obvious, but there is a real danger of considering a child to be a Christian simply because they do Christian things like go to Sunday school, pray and read the Bible. As parents whose primary goals for our children should be spiritual life in Christ and spiritual growth in Christ-likeness, we need to be constantly evaluating our child’s spiritual development. Have they come to saving faith? Do you see genuine spiritual fruit in their life?
Also - Are they able to articulate their faith? Do they know the Gospel? Are they able to explain it? I’m not talking about theological language, but can they explain whom Jesus is, what sin is and what Jesus did to save them from it? Without this level of understanding and belief, baptism will simply be another Christian thing they do for wrong reasons - like maybe pleasing their parents.
3. Do they know what baptism is all about?
At Westside we have a baptism class and then each baptismal candidate writes their testimony and does an interview with a couple of our elders. This was a very helpful process for our boys. I went to the class with them and then we debriefed it together. I helped them to understand that baptism is all about Jesus. It’s a picture of his death and resurrection and it’s a declaration of our faith in him - but we don’t do it to get to a new level of Christian living or to show people how serious we are about God. It’s a step of obedience that is all about Jesus. Depending on the age of the child, understanding this sometimes takes a while. We ended up having a number of conversations about it.
4. Are they persevering in their desire to be baptized?
I think this is very important. As a child, it’s exciting to say you want to get baptized. It’s even exciting to go to a special class about it, but when you have to write out a testimony, get interviewed by the elders, say your testimony in front of a camera or in front of the church and then get into very cold water to be dunked - children (and some adults) can become much less enthusiastic.
We experienced this first hand, as one of our boys started having second thoughts partway through the process. After talking about it with him and trying to get to the root of his misgivings we discerned that it was mainly an issue of nervousness about being in the spotlight (so to speak). There was a part of me that simply wanted to push him through and get it done, but we recognized that this had to be his decision. So in the end our response was direct but open handed. We reminded him - you are a Christian. Baptism is not about you feeling comfortable it’s about obeying the call of Jesus to be baptized so that he is publicly honoured. Your testimony is his story, not yours. There’s no good reason to NOT get Baptized but it’s your decision and nothing in your relationship with us or with God will change if you don’t. You are loved and will continue to be loved regardless. Then we left it with him and prayed lots each night that the Spirit of God would convict him. At the eleventh hour he wrote his testimony (something he had been reluctant to do), sent it in and remained committed to baptism from that moment on. We praise God for that mature step of obedience.
Baptism is more than just a symbol. Through our obedience to the call to be baptized we receive and experience God’s grace in a new way. In this case our son pushed through his fear because he wanted to put Jesus first in every area of his life. That new found resolve was God’s grace. We need to challenge our children to obey the call of God because it honours Jesus and because it is for their good.
Some final suggestions for parents:
1. Don’t treat them like children.
You’ve probably already noticed that we didn't really cut any corners simply because they were kids. To be sure we gave them extra support and talked things over in language that they could understand. But it was a good thing for them to have to do an interview with the elders of our church on their own, and it was a good thing for them to give their testimony on their own. It’s their faith and God will grow and strengthen it through testing.
2. It’s not about you.
Keep reminding yourself that it’s by God’s power and grace that anyone is saved. This means that baptism is not about how good a parent you are or how bad a parent you are. You are a steward of the children God has given to you, but they really belong to Him and He will glorify himself through their lives regardless. Our job is to be faithful stewards of our children and loving parents.
We have a tendency to celebrate things that don’t matter that much (birthdays, Superbowls, etc.) and forget to celebrate the things that really do matter (baptisms!). Any family member getting baptized is cause for great celebration. This means you should be prepared to spend time, money and energy to properly celebrate the event. We made up special e-vites for all our family and friends. We made it clear that they were welcome to come to our church gathering in the morning, but also when the Baptism would be and that there would be a party at our house that afternoon. And it was a party!!
What we celebrate tells our children what we value. Baptism is a wonderful opportunity to make much of the grace of God in the life of our child. There have been few greater joys in the life of our family than that day last September when 2 of our boys proclaimed their faith in Jesus.
If Baptism is something your child has asked about there’s still time to sign up for the class this Sunday - Feb 21 at 1pm at the Centre. Remember to be open handed, patient and encouraging. And may God continue to glorify Himself through your family.
Matt Glezos is on staff at Westside Church, where he is the Director of Ministry Development. Matt is married to Dawn and they have five boys.